Society & Culture

Campaigners: People with Disabilities in Iran Being Left Behind

November 16, 2021
Behnam Gholipour
6 min read
Sajjad Pir Ayghar Chaman, a young international gold medalist who is deaf, has been forced to work as a street vendor selling cigarettes to survive
Sajjad Pir Ayghar Chaman, a young international gold medalist who is deaf, has been forced to work as a street vendor selling cigarettes to survive
In late October, blind people held a rally in Isfahan to protest against the government’s indifference to their needs. There was little media coverage
In late October, blind people held a rally in Isfahan to protest against the government’s indifference to their needs. There was little media coverage
With the Iranian economy failing, people with disabilities have become the most voiceless minority in the country
With the Iranian economy failing, people with disabilities have become the most voiceless minority in the country

As Iran continues to be engulfed by a vast range of economic and social crises, people with disabilities are quickly becoming the most voiceless minority in the country and are increasingly being pushed to the margins of society. It’s an issue the government ignores and the media fails to cover adequately.

In late October, a group of blind people held a rally outside the State Welfare Organization in Isfahan to protest against the government’s indifference to their needs. The protest was largely ignored by the media.

Sajjad Pir Ayghar Chaman is a young deaf discus athlete who recently won a gold medal at the 2021 World Deaf Athletics Championships in Poland. Pir Ayghar Chaman has won a total of seven medals at Asian and international competitions since 2012, but he works as a street vendor selling cigarettes in his hometown of Tabriz. Speaking to Fars News Agency, he said he had been given many promises over the past 10 years that he will be given a better, more secure job, but so far, none of them have been fulfilled. Again, this interview went mostly unnoticed, just as other news about people with disabilities in Iran often is.

What do statistics and studies tell us about people with disabilities in Iran?

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According to a recent study published by the Statistical Center for the Ministry of Labor, out of a population of 80 million in Iran, there are more than 1.7 million people with disabilities who require additional help. According to its figures, the number of people with disabilities rose by 33.5 percent in 2020, a significant surge since the figures presented in 2016.

The number of people who are deaf or hard of hearing reached more than 223,000 in 2020, an increase of 22.3 percent compared with 2016. Tehran, Fars and Razavi Khorasan provinces had the highest number of people with hearing difficulties or who were deaf. Official statistics show that, during the same time period, the number of blind people reached 206,000, an increase of more than 47 percent.

According to the same group of statistics, the number of people with physical and mental disabilities decreased between 2016 and 2020, but the number of people with vision, speech and psychological disabilities rose.

Consumption of wood alcohol or high volumes of other types of alcohol under the illusion that it would fend off coronavirus was cited as the main factor in the increase in the number of people with sight disabilities. Of the people with disabilities registered with the State Welfare Organization, at least 11 percent suffer from vision problems. What is striking is that 35 to 40 percent of this group are university students.

People with disabilities in Iran have to deal not only with an unacceptably low level of services and facilities, but also with abuse and discrimination in education, at their places of work, and in their pursuits of job and economic opportunities. In 2018, in a 71-page report entitled “‘I Am Equally Human’: Discrimination and Lack of Accessibility for People with Disabilities in Iran”, Human Rights Watch observed the “everyday barriers that people with disabilities meet when going to government offices, healthcare centers, and when using public transportation. People with disabilities also regularly face stigma and discrimination from government social workers, healthcare workers, and others. Many remain trapped in their homes, unable to live independently and participate in society on an equal basis with others.”

The report found “serious problems in the work of Iran’s State Welfare Organization, the main agency tasked with providing services to people with disabilities. People interviewed said that government social workers insulted and humiliated them and did not provide essential information about services and equipment. They said that the agency’s services and equipment provided for assistance are often of low quality, do not address people’s needs, and can only be obtained through lengthy and complex procedures. Many of those interviewed said they had to depend on family members or close friends for help with basic needs, such as eating, getting dressed, or daily hygiene.”

It’s been 20 years since Iran passed its first law to make existing public facilities and buildings, including recreational and sport facilities, roads and services accessible to people with disabilities. But in that time, not much, if anything, has been done to turn that law into a realty. In 2018, parliament passed the Law to Protect the Rights of the Disabled, but it took President Rouhani’s government 19 months to allocate a budget for its implementation.

A new study of more than 16,000 people with disabilities in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan province, found that “that the issue of disability and planning for the disabled in the city has been neglected.”

Not Even Supported in Iran’s Holiest Shia Shrine

The shrine of Imam Reza, the eighth Shia imam, is the holiest Shia site in Iran. It is estimated that every year, around 20 million pilgrims visit the shrine. Many of the pilgrims have disabilities but, as another recent study shows, even in this environment, they face a range of problems.

The study includes a long list of what would be required to make the shrine even minimally hospitable for people with disabilities. It includes recommendations for a designated  path to the shrine with proper lighting for people with disabilities, ramps, elevators, doors wide enough to allow in medical equipment, drinking fountains at the correct height for wheelchairs, coverings for slippery pavements, adjustments to the tilt of sloping paths, special door handles for people with disabilities in areas providing services, appropriate design for entryways, special floor coverings and markings to guide the blind, visual signs to help deaf people, and the provision of enough space to maneuver wheelchairs.

This study was conducted in 2020 by a quarterly published by Imam Reza Shrine itself and, needless to say, the facilities at the shrine are still not friendly to people with disabilities, even if the guardians of the shrine have the will and the inclination to make the adjustments listed above.

A 2021 study on the use of public libraries by people with disabilities found that they constitute less than 0.1 percent of members, and that libraries have no specific plans to accommodate them. As a result, they suffer from inadequate resources, facilities, and poorly-trained staff and services. Conditions and accessibility in the libraries are not adequate for ensuring people with disabilities can use them with ease and comfort. Also absent are assistive technologies including CCTV, Braille printers and screen magnification.

While there can be little doubt that international sanctions and embargoes have had a profoundly adverse effect on all aspects of the lives of Iranians, especially on its health and physical rehabilitation sector, officials of the Islamic Republic have exploited the issue to blame these sanctions for everything, trying to justify their chronic neglect of the very basic needs of people with disabilities. It is doubtful that if and when sanctions are lifted they will make any sound improvements to improve the situation.

Related coverage:

Blind Street Vendor Turns to Twitter and Instagram During the Pandemic

MOHAM: An NGO Pushing for Access for Disabled Iranians

Disabled Ex-Kolbar Embarks on Cross-Country Journey for Justice

Poverty Rate in Iran 'Doubled' in Three Years

Electric Shocks and Injections Lead to Death and Disabilities in Iranian Prisons

Coronavirus Leaves Small Charities Exposed in Iran

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